There are only two things I need when I sit down to write - my computer and my imagination. I don’t have whiteboards or spread-sheets, I don’t have anything on my desk to inspire me. I don’t even have a notepad and pencil on hand to jot down ideas. I know the beginning of my novel and sometimes - but not always - the end. Even if I know the end, I don’t actually know how I’m going to get there. I might have one or two ideas but I prefer to wait and see where the characters take me. It’s like going on a journey with a group of friends with only a vague idea of how you’re going to get to the destination – and being open to the fact that even that vague idea might morph into something completely different.
I’ve tried to plot. When I first started writing, I met an author who was horrified that I didn’t plan everything out beforehand. It made me wonder if I was doing everything wrong so another author kindly sent me her spread-sheets so that I could see how she worked. I duplicated them and tried to fill them in chapter by chapter, as she had done. But I couldn’t, because I had no idea what was going to happen in those chapters. So I went back to being a pantser – so called because we non-plotters apparently fly by the seats of our pants!
That’s not to say that I haven’t thought a lot about the story I want to tell before I sit down to write it. I always have two books on the go, the one I’m currently writing and the one I intend to write next. One on my computer screen, the other in my head. Writing without a plan means that I have to edit more. I love editing, so it’s not a problem. My favourite part of my writing day is in the morning, when I read over what I wrote the day before and refine it until I’m happy. I’m quite ruthless. Sometimes I bin whole paragraphs. Although I might like what I’ve written, if it’s not moving the story along, it has to go.
My idea for a story usually comes from something that has happened to me, or that I think could happen to me. For my second book, The Breakdown, I was driving though some woods during a terrible storm and I wondered what would happen if I broke down, or if I saw someone who had broken down. For Bring Me Back, my husband stopped at a service station in France, leaving me alone in the car, and I wondered what would happen if he came back and found me gone. I have a very vivid imagination and usually manage to come up with the worst possible scenario!
I’m not a great sleeper but it doesn’t bother me if I’m awake during the night because I’ll use the time to write. It’s impossible to say how many hours I write each day; if I’m having a writing day, with no distractions, I’m capable of writing for six hours at a stretch, simply because I don’t see the time passing. It’s hunger or thirst that will eventually make me stop and after a short break, I’ll write for another few hours. And if I can’t sleep that night, I’ll do a couple more. Buy there are days when I don’t write at all, because of other commitments. Those days always feel a little less shiny.
I can write anywhere. I have a writing desk and soon I’ll have a lovely writer’s room in the garden. But I’m most comfortable writing on my bed, my laptop propped on my knees. We recently moved back to the UK after more than thirty years in France and live in the middle of the English countryside so if I hit a wall and I’m not sure where my story is going, I’ll take a walk over the fields until I’ve found a way forward. It usually works!
I’m always relieved when my book goes to print. Until that point, the urge to tweak it, to change a word here and there, move a paragraph from one place to another, is terrible. But like a child flying the nest, there comes a time when you have to let go so that it can make its own way in the world.
The Dilemma by B A Paris (Published by HarperCollins Publishers), £12.99 Out Now.
It's Livia's 40th birthday and she's having the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding she never had. Everyone she loves will be there except her daughter Marnie, who's studying abroad. But although Livia loves Marnie, she's secretly glad she won't be at the party. She needs to tell Adam something about their daughter but she's waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together. Adam wants everything to be perfect for Livia so he's secretly arranged for Marnie to come home and surprise her on her birthday. During the day, he hears some terrible news. He needs to tell Livia, because how can the party go on? But she's so happy, so excited - and the guests are about to arrive. The Dilemma - how far would you go to give someone you love a last few hours of happiness?
B A Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown and Bring Me Back. Now approaching 1.5 million copies sold in the UK alone, she is a Sunday Times bestseller, New York Times bestseller as well as a number one bestseller on Amazon and iBooks. Her books have sold in 38 languages around the world. Having lived in France for many years, she recently moved back to the UK.